March 04, 2015
By Dr. Ariel Cohen
The murder of my good friend Boris Nemtsov is a personal tragedy. When we met for lunch in Tel Aviv a few months ago, I warned him not to return to Moscow. Posters and ads denouncing him as a “national traitor” had been plastered all over the city’s Novy Arbat Avenue and on the Internet.
His 87-year old mother Dina, a retired pediatrician, also warned him to watch his mouth, “otherwise Putin will kill you,” he disclosed in a recent interview. Mother knew best.
Just like being named an “enemy of the people” under Stalin, the label “national traitor” or “foreign agent” under Russian President Vladimir Putin can mean a long prison sentence — or death. “To paraphrase Pravda, Putin is the Stalin of today,” says Stephen Blank, senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and author of a book on Stalin’s nationality policy.
Boris Nemtsov joins the long list of assassinated friends and acquaintances over years. It includes Duma members Galina Starovoytova and Sergei Yushenkov, Novaya Gazeta editor Yuri Shchekochikhin, Serbian Prime Minister Goran Djindjic and Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. I did not meet Alexander Litvinenko, the fugitive FSB officer who was poisoned with polonium in London, attorney Sergey Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow prison in 2009, or the slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya, but their names belong on this list of martyrs as well.
The damage wrought by Nemtsov’s murder, and the murders which preceded it, goes well beyond the personal. This trail of blood and tears has enormous implications for Russia, both political and economic.
Since 2011, Russia has been rapidly transitioning away from a “soft” authoritarian state, where the principal means of control were restricted access to the state-dominated media, stuffed ballot boxes, and police batons. All that is now in the past.
Ariel Cohen, PhD, is Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, Principal, International Market Analysis Ltd, a political risk advisory, and Director, Center for Energy,Natural Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security